John Deere. Most of you probably associate that green and yellow image of that streamlined, graceful deer leaping through the air with hipster trucker hats (thanks, Ashton Kutcher) but when that majestic animal flashes past my vision, it just makes me think of home. You see, dear readers, John Deere was a Vermonter, born and bred, just like yours truly. I got caught behind more than one of his namesake products on the way to high school many years ago and if there’s one thing Vermonters love, it’s talking up anything and everything good about our tiny, frozen Northeastern State. (Even if it makes us late for school.)
Sorry, I’m getting a little off track here. The reason I’ve taken off down the beautiful country road that is a Vermonter’s memory lane is a company called Davenport Tractor, which sells replacement parts for antique tractors with a major focus on John Deere. Davenport Tractor has been around for 10 years, started with a hundred bucks and now pulls in over a million yearly, and seems to only be growing so we figured you all could benefit from hearing about their process.
We chatted with founder Allen Jarosz about what keeps him going, what his day to day looks like, and any advice he has for other people who are looking to rock their industry as hard as he is clearly rocking his. Check it out.
What’s your company about? What do you do? Who are your customers?
Our company manufacturers replacement parts for antique John Deere tractors. Also known as Two-Cylinder tractors or Johnny poppers. Our customers are seen in most parades or summer festivals, they are the 50+ year old retired or semi-retired Engineers, Farmers, Mechanics or just about any one interested in mechanical things.
What’s the greatest thing about your company/website? Why is it better than the competition?
Our website is well organized with parts listed by their function, or the tractor they fit, along with basic setup information for each tractor. Each part has a John Deere part number associated with it to make indexing on the internet quick.
Our company is a small Midwest Mom & Pop operation where we employee up to 11 local residents to produce high quality parts with hand made attention to details. We produce the highest quality parts catalogs, operators manuals, and service manuals for John Deere tractors. Recently we have expanded our line of manuals to include Case, Oliver, Ford, Garr Scott, and many other tractor manufacturers you may not of heard of.
How’d you come up with the name for your company?
As the business grew, several name options presented themselves. Davenport Tractor has been the best so far. It describes our location and is generic enough to represent several models of tractor.
What was your first computer? How old were you when you first got on the world wide web?
Commidor Vic 20. Like Al Gore I was right there when the internet was invented.
What time do you usually start work each day? How many hours a day do you usually work?
I start my work week at 8:00 am and stay in the office until 4:00 pm I retire to my study and work on various projects until 8:00 pm.
What’s the very first thing you do at work every day?
Check the internet! How many orders did we get? What email messages do I need to answer? What are our inventory levels? I also schedule work on replacement inventory.
When do your best ideas come to you? In bed in the morning? During dinner? On your third beer?
Normally my best ideas come to me during quiet time when my mind has a chance to wander.
How many people did you start the company with and how many people work for you now?
Our business started with just one employee (me) and since I was already working for another employer, I needed to count on my wife to ship orders when I was out of town. As order levels increased we needed a dedicated shipping person. We now employee 11 people.
A lot of people have big ideas. What gave you the confidence to actually go after yours?
As an employee for a major US airline I watched as many of my co workers lost their lives on September 11th. The aircraft I just gave up in another city was used as a weapon. I knew our industry was gong to change forever. That was my kick in the pants to do the things I thought one day I would like to do. It still reminds me how short life can be.
Remember the early days of starting up? Describe the struggles you went through.
The early days of Davenport Tractor didn’ have many struggles. I guess it was the right thing at the right time, or I was so enthused that I didn’t recognize any struggles. Like most things though we would of liked to have grown faster. But we managed our money well, reinvested our sales back into new inventory, so the business grew exponentially.
How do you handle frustration? What has been your biggest professional frustration?
I’m about the easiest going person I can think of, so I don’t have much frustration. About the only professional challenge I have, is not understanding why a customer that buys a $1500 tractor, and is planning on investing another $5000 in parts, wont spend $25 to purchase a parts catalog, and use it to ensure they get the correct parts for their restoration.
What’s your office environment like? Do you listen to music? Watch movies? Play video games?
Our office is very comfortably appointed with soft chairs and the comforts of home. I want my employees to feel comfortable at work, and like being there. I know I hated the days when I punched the clock and ran for the door at another employer.
How do you picture your company in 5 years?
Our company has continually grown for the 10 years we have been in business. In the next 5 years I think our product line will stabilize.
Who or what inspires YOU? Role models? Quotes? Running? Video games? Snack food?
People that do extraordinary things inspire me. Mostly in the sciences area. I believe that the only limitation we have as humans are the limits we place on ourselves. We all want to know how fast can we travel, how high can we build, how small can we make a transistor. Then later waste our time trying come up with a limit to our attach to our questions.
How’d you fund this venture? VC? Self-funding? Crowdfunded? Where’d you get the money, man?
Davenport Tractor is all self funded, but not by much. We started with a $9 pin and $100 seed money. With the profits we reinvested in more pins and then later a larger selection of pins. At this point we love to see how reinvesting has exponentially grown our business.
Got any great bootstrapping tips for the lean startups out there?
If your idea for a new business or product is a good one today. It will also be a good idea tomorrow. Any good idea needs to stand the test of time, since it will take time to get your product in front of your customer.
What other advice do you have for other entrepreneurs struggling to get started?
Love what you do! If you’re doing something just to have a job, or you think its a cool idea, you will soon become frustrated with the challenges, and give up on your idea.
What would you do if you had a year off and $500,000 to spend (on something other than work)?
I would travel to visit the under privileged, invest my time money and ideas to help improve their lives. I would like to help raise the lower limits of society.
Number 1 country you’ve always wanted to visit but haven’t yet? (And why that country?)
Antarctica. I believe it is probably the least affected by man’s impact on the planet.
Three people (other than you) we should follow on Twitter and why?
The Pope: Even though I am not Catholic, he has many followers that will do anything he says to do.
Barack Obama: for the same reason.
Bill Gates: I believe Mr. Gates lives the life we all should. He has made the biggest contribution to mankind and changed the lives of everyone on the planet. He is now using his life to improve individual lives in a more personal way.
Please share some specific numbers (funding, revenue, visitors) that highlight your growth.
In ten years we have grown from a $100 company to over $1,000,000 in sales our website host over 100,000 visits per month. With new product introductions this spring we anticipate at least a 30% growth.
Where can our readers get ahold of you?